Scary Odds from the master.(COMMENTARY)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Scary Odds from the master.(COMMENTARY)


Byline: Arnaud de Borchgrave, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The chances of making it through the next 50 years without a weapon of mass destruction act of terrorism are no better than 1 in 200. So wrote Warren Buffett, the wizard of Wall Street whose uncanny sixth sense for stock picks made him a billionaire 36 times over and propelled his Berkshire Hathaway into a Fortune 500 powerhouse. In a letter dated Oct. 22 addressed to former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the 72-year-old virtuoso who bought his first three shares of stock at age 11 and made $5 bucks on the sale, described the statistical chance of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack on the United States:

*"If the chance of a weapon of mass destruction being used in a given year is 10 percent and the same probability persists for 50 years, the probability of the event happening at least once during that 50 years is 99.5 percent. Thus the chance of getting through the 50-year period without a disaster is 0.51 percent - just slightly better than one in 200.

*"If the probability of similar weapons being utilized can be reduced to 3 percent per year, the world has a 21.8 percent chance of making it through 50 years without a [catastrophic] event. And if the annual chance can be reduced to 1 percent, there is a 60.5 percent chance of making it through 50 years.

*"Of course, no one knows what the true probabilities are, but this sort of calculation points up the extraordinary benefit to humanity that can be achieved by reducing the probabilities of usage."

Ten years ago, Mr. Nunn co-sponsored the Nunn-Lugar legislation to fund a joint U.S.-Russian program designed to bring the former Soviet Union's gargantuan nuclear arsenal under proper safeguards, and thwart would-be pilferers from helping the world's proliferators. But Mr. Nunn's report to NTI was not encouraging. "Russia is home to mountains of nuclear bomb-making material," Mr. Nunn said, and "less than half of it is adequately safeguarded" after a decade-long campaign. It inherited from the defunct Soviet Union some 40,000 nuclear weapons and enough material to build 40,000 more. Just one of these could pulverize Manhattan or Washington.

It takes 6 to 9 pounds of plutonium or 60 pounds of weapons-grade uranium to manufacture one city-busting nuclear bomb. Russia has 400 tons of plutonium and 1,200 tons of uranium.

The 40 percent that has been secured under Nunn-Lugar included some 6,000 nuclear warheadsthat wereremoved from deployment, more than 400 missile silos destroyed, and almost 1,400 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, submarines and strategic bombers eliminated. Almost 40,000 weapons scientists in Russia and other former Soviet republics were given financial support to pursue peaceful research and commercial projects.

The NTI's Board is composed of two sitting U.S. senators, two members of the Russian Duma, one member of the British House of Lords, a former commander of U.S. strategic nuclear forces, a former U.S. Defense Secretary, and a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and leading citizens from China, India, Pakistan, Japan, Jordan and Sweden. Be-worried-not-happy was the gist of Mr. Nunn's grim report.

"Working with Russia at our current pace," Mr. …

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